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Nabokov and the Story of O

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The story of how Dominique Aury wrote The Story of O while she was in her 40’s as a love letter to her married older lover Jean Paulhan so that he wouldn’t lose interest in her is already well-known. In interviews given before her death, Aury stated that the name “O” for the book’s protagonist was taken from a friend named Odile. Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Eighteen years before the book was published,

“In 1936, in the second issue of Adrienne Monnier’s latest magazine, Mesures, Nabokov published a text called Mademoiselle O, written in French, about his French governess. Nabokov had written the piece in two weeks, and had read it to the PEN Club in Brussels, then the Russian Jewish Club, and finally, on 25 February 1936, at a reading in Paris, after which the French writer Jean Paulhan asked the young and unknown Russian novelist if he might grant permission to have the piece published in Mesures, which Paulhan helped to edit.”

Aury read drafts of the book to Paulhan. As Paulhan was an accomplished editor, it is likely that from time to time he made suggestions. Perhaps, with the title of Nabokov’s piece in mind, he also made a suggestion concerning the title. Later, Paulhan secured a publisher for the book, which was published under the name of Pauline Reage. Reage wasn’t Aury’s real name, of course, but neither was Aury. Her real name was Anne Desclos. Both Aury and Paulhan were active in the French Resistance. Spies know that names are things to be used and discarded. Or perhaps, in the case of “O,” borrowed ad kept.

The quote is from Adam Thirlwell’s The Delighted States(Farrar,2007) p. 406.

Written by mokane

August 3, 2008 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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